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Freedom City

January 2nd, 2016

Later Afternoon

 

Sometimes Tona Baudin regretted working just below where she lived. After a long day at work, she didn’t have to walk several blocks or ride a bus to get home; all she had to do was walk up a set of stairs. It was convenient, but it meant that she had no time to decompress and process what had happened during the day. After work she was immediately at home and had to deal with things there.

 

So she was already figuring how her evening when she walked through the door and saw her smartphone on the kitchen table, blinking. She didn’t reach down to feel where it normally was, since she had obviously forgotten it this morning; instead she just crossed over quickly and checked her messages.

 

Tona’s heart skipped a beat when she saw that her phone was full of messages from Sam’s number, but her mood soured when the first few messages revealed that they were from Miss Vance, Sam’s benefactor. Vance’s texts were short and to the point, letting Tona know that she was invited to dinner at Chicago with Vance and Sam. In fact, Vance was going to show up with a car at… The young woman glanced up to double-check the time and confirmed that she had about ten minutes before Miss Vance’s car arrived to pick her up.

 

She didn’t have much time, but Tona still managed to waver over which shirt to wear and grab a few essentials. She was outside the store, wearing a green hoodie and carrying a small bag, when the cab pulled up.

Edited by Raveled

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 The cabbie rolls down the window, "You Antoinette?" asks a round man with a big mustache.  "Hop in.  Air field, right?"

 

A short burst of overly aggressive driving filled with yelling at talk radio later, they're at an air field where a sharply dressed woman greets Tona and escorts her onto a small jet, who does her best to comfort a nervous flier all the way to Chicago.  At their destination, a grim-looking woman waits in a limousine.  "Miss Baudin," is the most she says the entire trip.

 

In the end, Tona arrives at stately Vance manor.  Though it isn't the first time Tona had been there, the spotless white mansion is always impressive.  Snow flurries painting the terrain a matching white only adds to the effect.  She is met at the door by a tall, severe-looking woman.  Pale skin with piercing dark eyes and angled features framed by short, raven black hair that has kept its color despite the obvious age beginning to creep across her face.  She keeps her expression stoic as she looks down at the girl on her doorstep, but all Tona can find in those ares are weariness.  "Hello, Miss Baudin.  Please come in."

 

She shuts out the cold behind Tona, then offers a businesswoman's handshake.  "I am Talia Vance," she introduces herself to the girl in person for the first time.  "Thank you for coming on such short notice.  I had hoped to meet you when Samantha was ready, but it seems circumstances dictate otherwise."

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Tona was not a happy person. She did not enjoy fast driving or airplane flight, and  having to endure both of them in such a short period of time had put her in a bad mood. She wanted to withdraw and just watch the world until the mood passed, but she had the feeling that Talia Vance wasn't going to let her settle with sullen silence. "Pleased to meet you," she said, her tone flat and her hands in her pockets. "Sam says good things about you." She paused and looked around the room, automatically noting the exits and lines of sight. "Why did you want me to come out here? If you wanted to talk, it would've been faster to come out to Freedom City."

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"I suspect she speaks of me as rarely as possible, if at all," Talia corrects.  "I have no delusions about our relationship, such as it is."

 

She lowers her hand, accepting the sleight for what it is.  "I apologize for the necessity.  I need your help.  Here.  It is about Samantha."  Confident she has the girl's attention, she turns to walk out of the foyer.  "Please come with me."

 

This isn't Tona's first time in the estate, and the room Talia leads her to is familiar.  A smaller dining room, more suited to seating a handful of people than the banquet hall.  It's where Sam and Tona ate in the rare instance they actually ate in the estate.  A piping hot pot of tea is already sitting on the table, and Talia pours two cups.

 

"I recommend taking a seat," she suggests, suspecting the hospitality won't be well received.

 

"Samantha is here," she says flatly.  "Something happened during her mission.  I do not know what.  She will not talk about it.  She will barely talk at all.  I cannot reach her, and if I cannot reach her, I cannot help her.  I hope that you can."

Edited by Blue Rose

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Tona's eyes kept moving as she followed Talia through the mansion. Sam really hadn't showed off much of the building; Tona felt that she loved being in this city more than she loved being in this building. This one room was familiar, though, and Tona felt a pang as they entered it and Sam was nowhere to be seen. The archer wandered near the table and took a hand out of her pockets long enough to run a finger down the edge. For months now, the only time she had seen Sam was in here over impromptu dinners; those memories and her feelings towards Sam and her very different feelings towards Talia and her residual feelings from the airplane flight were all mixing together and put her off her center. She didn't answer Talia for a long moment, instead just trying to sort through her emotions.

 

After a minute she drew back from the table, putting her hand back into the front pouch of her hoodie and fixing her gaze on Talia. "I don't know how to find Sam," she said. "I can send a text message from my phone, but I don't know when she'll be answer it." She felt a pang of jealousy and fear, not knowing what her girlfriend was getting up to -- Sam was brave and clever and resourceful, but Tona was still worried. She swallowed hard past a suddenly lump in her throat and continued. "But if she needs any sort of help, I'll help her."

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Talia reaches into her pocket and produces a familiar phone in a black case, with a heart, skull, anarchy, and Rainbow Dash sticker decorating it.  Sam's phone.  She'd been using it to call Tona, after all.  The point made, she pockets the phone again.

 

"If it were literal, this would be easy.  Samantha is here, Miss Baudin."  She pauses at that, ready to stop Tona if she makes a move to go find her.  "She came back three days ago.  She does not speak unless spoken to.  When spoken to, her response is as short and meaningless as possible, if anything.  She spends most of her time in her room, on her bed, with the cat until she falls asleep.  She barely eats, and even then with coaxing.  When asked about what happened, she just holds Soot tighter."

 

Her stoic mask begins to slip as she continues.  "I checked the weapon she took with her.It is the magazine she left with, and every bullet is still there.  I don't know what happened out there, and quite frankly I don't care, but I cannot get through to her.  She needs help, and I can't give it to her.  Maybe you can."

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Tona looked at Sam's phone and then looked away. She was glad that Sam hadn't shot anyone while she was away; it had hurt her so much to see Tona kill, that she wasn't sure how Sam would react to having to murder someone. Of course, if she was acting like how Talia described, maybe something like that had happened.

 

"I was not lying," she said. "I will do whatever is needed to help Sam." She paused for a moment and added, "You should have told me that she came home. I was worried about what was going to happen to her while she was out there."

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"If you are the woman she thinks you are, I know you weren't."  The kitchen door opens behind Tona, and a young woman walks in and sets a covered platter on the table.  "Thank you, Miss Carter."  The young woman nods, and then departs.

 

Instead of reaching for the platter, Talia keeps her attention on Tona, fingers laced.  "I do not make a habit of meddling in Samantha's affairs.  When she came back, I had assumed that she told you herself, and if not, that she had good reason.  I was wrong."

 

She sighs, "I'm sorry.  I tried to reach her, I tried to comfort her, to snap her out of it, but comforting is not my strength, and we don't have that relationship.  I can only hope you fare better."  She lifts the cover off the silver platter, revealing two plates of chicken and rice, as plain and simple as can be, and two glasses of ice water.  "If you can get her to eat dinner, that's progress.  She's in her room."

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Tona put a hand just over the chicken, feeling the heat and steam rising off the food. As a rule she didn't care for many recipes native to this world, most of which had too much butter and sugar and salt for her spartan tastes. This, though, was simply grilled chicken and boiled rice. It was as simple as could be and still be cooked food.

 

After a moment she replaced the lid of the platter and started moving towards the doorway. She'd been in this room before with Sam, and knew how to get to her bedroom. "I'll talk to her about dinner," she said, "but I don't think she's just hungry." She left the room and made the short walk to Sam's closed door. Tona leaned against the door, drumming her fingers against the wood. She could probably bust the door down and see Sam, but that was the exact wrong way to do it. She needed to go slowly and gently. The only problem was that she didn't usually go slowly or gently.

 

Tona took a deep breath before she started talking. "Sam, it's me. Talia said you came back from your trip. Do you want to talk about how it went?" Her free hand came out of her hoodie's pouch, drawing out the skeleton of a cat. After a moment the skeleton looked around and nuzzled its skull into Tona's arm, somehow purring despite not having a larynx. "Someone out here wants to see you again."

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Behind her door, Sam sits on her bed, watching Soot.  He'd decided he didn't want to be petted anymore about an hour ago, and she didn't feel up to arguing.  She doesn't react when she hears the rapping on the door.  Probably dinner.  Whatever.

 

Then, she hears Tona's voice, and curls up against her headboard, the world growing blurry.  And not just Tona; Mitsy, too?  She can't take it; it hurts to hear them.

 

She draws a breath, the deepest she's drawn in days, "Please... just go!"

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Tona was shocked to hear Sam's voice. Shocked to hear the strain in her voice, shocked to hear the cool and collected girl sound... wounded. "Talia got me," she said through the door. "Came all the way to Freedom City and flew me out on an airplane." She paused and let the silence hang there for a moment hoping that Sam would have something to say back, but after a minute it was clear that she didn't. "She said you came back from your missions weeks ago, and you haven't left your room since then."

 

Tona put her back to the door and slid down until she was sitting on the floor, holding the skeletal kitten in her hands. She sighed and ran her finger down the cat's spine, feeling the ridges of its spine and watching its tail stand up straight. She wasn't sure what to say to get through to Sam; part of Tona's brain was telling her to simply kick the door open and confront her girlfriend about everything, but she had a feeling that would just make things worse. Tona didn't know how to handle emotional situations and she didn't know how to read people. Her mouth quirked into the beginning of a smile when she realized that she had always depended on Sam for that sort of thing.

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As Tona goes on about her trip, guilt wells up.

 

Tona flew here.

 

Tona flew here.

 

Sam remembers the first time she was with her in a car, and scared out of her mind.  It was one of the bigger illusions she'd pulled since she got to Earth to calm her down.  Didn't help.  If anything, it made it worse.  As if that's a surprise.

 

And here she goes again, making things worse all over again, just by being here for... weeks?  Has it been weeks?  That doesn't seem right?

 

Doesn't matter.  Time's not important now.  Just have to stay away.

 

She curls up into a ball, tears falling onto her sheets as she whimpers.

 

"I just don't want to hurt you," she says in a squeak only the keenest ears could catch.

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Tona tried to scratch the cat skeleton behind the ears, but her nails just slipped against bone; at least Mitsy seemed appreciative. "I wish you would just talk to me about what happened," she said, talking as much to the cat as her girlfriend behind the door. "I tried to get you to talk about it when you showed up for dinner, but you never would. And now you're back and you still won't talk about it!" She sighed, leaning her head back against the door. "Just open the door, please. I don't want to climb out on the ledge. It's really cold out today!"

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Sam continues trying to crawl into some hole in the back of her head and disappears, but Tona manages to keep laying on the guilt.  She pictures Tona out in the cold, climbing up to her window.  It isn't snowing outside, but that doesn't stop her imagination from making a blizzard.  Soot's sandpapery tongue brings her back to reality for one confused moment of lucidity, "But... the door isn't locked."

 

Just like Tona, to start with the hard way.

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Tona opened the door gently and stepped through, closing it quietly behind her. She walked over to the bed and knelt near Sam, extracting Soot's bony form from the pocket. "Unlocked isn't the same as open," she said quietly. She ran her hand through her girlfriend's hair, enjoying for a moment just being near her. "This isn't like you, Sam. What happened out there?"

Edited by Raveled

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Reflexively, Sam nuzzles Tona's hand, her body wanting, needing the touch.

 

Stupid traitor body.

 

"It's my fault.  It's all my fault.  Shrike, Mouse, Fox, Miss Vance, all of it!"  And if you don't leave, you'll be next.

 

"I don't want to hurt you, too."

 

It was rare to bring up anything from Dis, but those two names, she'd mentioned to Tona before.  The mercenary who protected her as a kid, eventually dying for her, and the imp who came to Earth with her, and now is in AEGIS custody for attempted global conquest.  Which, technically, Sam was an accomplice in.

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Tona didn't know what her girlfriend had discovered on her trip; she knew Sam was diving into her past, but she had never expected it to go all the way back to Dis. Part of her wanted to dig and uncover all the secrets and figure out ways to protect Sam. Another part wanted to curl up with the other woman and protect her here, in this room, and never be away from her again. She put both of those instincts aside and instead turned Sam's head until she could look the other woman in the eye. "Hey. Look at me, Sam. You could never hurt me." She put her face on the pillow next to Sam's. "this isn't like you, and that scares me. I don't know what happened out there, but I'm going to stay next to you until you're better."

 

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Sam looks into Tona's eyes, lip trembling, her bright green eyes sparkling under tears in a puffy, beat-red face.

 

Go away.  Please go away.  I can't let you do this.  I can't...

 

But of the myriad forces arguing inside her, her mind is the weakest, as she soaks in the warmth of Tona's touch.  For a while, her mouth opens, then shuts as she tries to find the words, until eventually, she just gives up and buries her face in Tona's chest, clinging onto her until eventually, her ragged breathing steadies and she falls asleep.  Real, genuine sleep, not simply zoning out for a while until she returns to semi-consciousness.

 

Morning comes, and when Tona wakes up, Sam isn't in her arms.  Looking around, the rice is gone from the plate Tona had brought.  Eating chicken that's been setting all night is a bad idea, even in the lifeless wasteland that is Chicago.

 

Running water can be heard from the next room as Sam brushes her teeth, and has a change of clothes set out for after a real shower with water and soap and everything.

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